Fiji Time: 9:43 AM on Wednesday 21 February

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Back to work

Margaret Wise And Felix Chaudhary
Sunday, January 21, 2018

THE Employment Relations Tribunal has ordered Air Terminal Services to allow back all workers stood down or suspended from December 16, 2017 by 1pm tomorrow.

While delivering his ruling in a packed special court sitting in Nadi, Magistrate Andrew See said the orders of the tribunal were not a victory for either ATS management or its workers, but "a victory for Fiji employment law, and the need to ensure it is embraced at all times by all stakeholders".

Mr See also ordered that the 225 workers be returned to work in accordance with the terms of their employment contract, and on a case by case basis, ATS ensure that the pay and entitlements of each employee were reviewed and where necessary reinstituted, in accordance with the law.

He directed ATS to give effect to the order by issuing all affected employees, new work rosters, security access ID cards, and any other pre-start work requirements within 48 hours of his ruling.

Mr See also called on the workers' representative, the Federated Airlines Staff Association, to comply with the terms of the grievance procedures contained in Article 25B of the Master Agreement, "in order to secure and preserve amity and good relations between the company, the association and employees and to resolve any difference of opinion or dispute between the parties".

The ATS management had initiated the sitting of the tribunal on Tuesday, January 16 when it sought a ruling on whether the actions of the ATS workers was a lockout or a strike.

After perusing the ATS-FASA Master Agreement during that first sitting, Mr See directed both parties to begin urgent discussion that would facilitate the return to work of employees by yesterday.

He also said the management could not lawfully suspend workers without pay because of the disciplinary procedures in place in an agreement between the two parties.

The ATS management sought to withdraw their application a few days later but Mr See said it would be "premature" for him to agree to their request.

He said there was no statutory formula directing the tribunal on withdrawal of applications and the granting of leave was left to the discretion of the Tribunal on "grounds that were reasonable".

He said the minister's strike directive involved the conduct of 70 employees, and the tribunal took into account the fact the employer was not certain whether the other 190 had participated in an unlawful act.

In addition, Mr See said the tribunal also considered that it was in the public interest to resolve the ATS dispute as quickly as possible.

He said according to the Master Agreement, ATS could refer workers to a disciplinary committee, but it "cannot compel the employees to do anything other than that".

He said if the company did not wish to submit to that process, than workers should be returned to work.

"There is no other options available, there is no right to suspend without pay," Mr See said.

He also told both parties to follow the Master Agreement and conduct their business in accordance with the law.

He said there should be a partnership approach between the two and both parties should deal with each other in good faith, with sincerity and honesty, and not mislead or deceive each other.

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